Fighting Childhood Obesity

As the number of individuals labelled as obese grows, parents across the country are looking to find ways to fight the fat for their children as well as themselves.

A lot of attention is given to childhood obesity in the media. Whether a child is overweight or obese, keeping our children active is not only about the number on the scale, it's also about their health.

Worrying childhood obesity statistics

Change4Life, set up by the NHS, fears that without lifestyle changes, 9 out of 10 of kids today could grow up with dangerous amounts of fat in their bodies. This excess build-up of fat leads to serious health issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.

With 30% of children between 2 and 15 currently tipping the high end of the scales, and the NHS spending over £5 billion every year on weight related illnesses, the future looks dim.

Combating childhood obesity

But all is not lost! There are a lot of ways parents and children can help combat childhood obesity and start living healthier more active lives.

Losing weight as a child is a much easier prospect than waiting until you are an adult to take control of your lifestyle and make the massive changes needed to melt away the excess fat you've been carrying around for years. Children learn by example, so if you find yourself tucking into a family size bag of crisps in front of inquiring minds, be prepared for a harder battle when it comes to convincing the kids to eat their 5 a day.

We asked, Sue Wilkie, Fitness Presenter & Education Co-ordinator at the Physical Company, for a few simple suggestions parents can follow to help combat childhood obesity in their own children and get the whole family back on track.

Tips for fighting childhood obesity

    • Serve up 'me-size' meals

Respect your child's appetite: do not insist they finish everything in front of them. It's vital to make sure children get the right amount for their age. Respect your child's appetite - their bodies know how much they need.

We often serve children adult portions without realising it, and there is a simple tool to measure the right amounts without needing cumbersome scales and measuring cups. Look to your child's hand for guidance. Since this grows with their developing bodies it's a measuring tool that grows with them.

When dividing up meat, their portion should fit in the palm of their hand. If you are serving them grains like rice or pasta, have them make a fist - and serve them the size equivalent. This measurement can be projected on to fruits, vegetables and dairy products such as yogurt.

When it's time for a snack, have them grab a handful - far easier to control than leaving the open bag.

    • Get your children moving

Exercise is vital at all ages. The NHS points out that children under the age of five who can walk unaided should be physically active for at least three hours a day, whether indoors or out. And those aged five to 18 should do at least one hour of aerobic activity every day - a mix of moderate activities such as walking to school, rollerblading, skateboarding or playing in the playground and more intensive exercise such as running, playing chase, vigorous dancing, football or riding a bike fast or on hills. But try to enjoy exercise as a family.

    • Swap the sugar in your child's diet

Swap sugary snacks and drinks to ones that are lower in sugar. It is best to keep sugary foods to meal times than to eat them as snacks.

So switch sugary soft drinks for water, skimmed milk or well-diluted pure fruit juice. Swap sugary snacks such as cakes and biscuits for fresh fruit, a chunk of cheese or bread-based options such as a scone or currant bun. Buy reduced sugar jams and choose canned fruit in juice rather than syrup

    • Cut back fat

As well as sugar, cutting back on fat is a key tool in the battle against childhood obesity. The easiest and surest method is to limit junk food, and too many fatty treats such as cakes, crisps and chocolate.

Children under-two do need a certain amount of healthy fat in their diet, so when they are very young make sure they have full fat milk and dairy products. You can switch to lower fat varieties over the age of two.

    • Follow the 'five a day' rule for kids

You've heard it a million times before, but do try to dole out five portions of fruit and veg a day - it's easier than you might think. Some NHS tips include adding fruit, such a banana, strawberries or sultanas, to a child's breakfast cereal; giving dried fruit as a snack; popping extra vegetables in a pasta sauce or casserole for dinner.

    • Do not reward completion of meals with sweet desserts

Try not to get into the habit, from the outset of weaning, of 'rewarding' good eating with a sweet treat at the end. Limit desserts to special occasions. A yoghurt or piece of fruit is fine if your child is still peckish after their meal.

    • Limit television watching

It's a cliché but too much time spent in front of the TV or computer games eats into the time spent engaged in active exercise. Place strict controls on your child's TV and computer habits to ensure they are engaging in active play as much as possible - even if it's just skipping in the garden or racing up the stairs.

    • Bring the whole family on board

The only sure way to ensure healthy eating and healthy habits is to set an example as a whole family. Make sure the whole family gets involved in activities at the weekends such as walking, swimming and outdoor games, and try to get everyone to respect meal times and sit around the table to enjoy them.

More questions about children's fitness and childhood obesity

You can email to get in touch with Sue Wilkie at the Physical Company.